One of the world’s leading fashion designers was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “I hate ugly people. Very depressing.”
Well, if you look anything like me you almost feel you should apologize to the poor little petal: “Dear Mr. Fashion Designer, I really am so sorry to be a cause of mental anguish to you; please forgive me.”
Mind you, I can’t resist commenting that, judging by the accompanying photos, he himself is not exactly an oil painting.
I have to admit that if I were asked to draw up a list of the 10 most stupid, bone-headed, nasty, ill-mannered, coarse, odious, contemptible remarks ever made in the history of the human race, this one would be right up there.
Yet, on further reflection I find it hard not to feel genuinely sorry for a person capable of such a repugnant opinion.
And when I see the fashion pages in newspapers and magazines – unsmiling models parading in absurd clothes you would never see in everyday life – the feeling is only intensified.
How sad that a massive industry involving millions upon millions of dollars is built on the need to look (supposedly) good, to impress, to turn heads.
My mind went to the prophetic word in Isaiah 53, which Christians have always applied to Jesus, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”
The Message translation gives this as, “There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look.”
And then to the word about David in 1 Samuel 16: “The Lord doesn’t see as mortals see: They look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
And even to Peter’s word to women (though – with adjustments no doubt – every bit as applicable to men), “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self” (1 Peter 3).
It’s striking that the New Testament never so much as mentions the physical appearance of the people it’s describing, neither Jesus nor anyone else.
Centuries of Christian art have more than plugged that gap, but it’s all pure guesswork.
I wonder what Mary looked like? Was she pretty? Was she plain? Did she perhaps have a cast in her eye or an unsightly mole? A missing tooth or two?
And Peter – was he really the stocky, muscled, bearded figure we probably carry in our imaginations? We just don’t know.
Indeed, the nearest we ever get to a physical description of a New Testament figure is that of Paul, who was apparently “baldheaded, bowlegged, strongly built, a man small in size, with meeting eyebrows, and a rather large nose.” Not particularly impressive, it would seem.
Let me be quick to add that this description doesn’t come from the Bible, but from an early Christian document called the “Acts of Paul and Thecla,” and we have no way of knowing how true it is.
But why would such a memory be recorded if there weren’t at least some truth in it?
There is, of course, nothing wrong with taking a little trouble to look nice and to dress smartly and even elegantly. But an obsession with outward appearance is a symptom of a false set of priorities.
If we are to seek beauty or handsomeness, let it be of that “inner” kind that Peter mentions. And what, precisely, does that mean?
I don’t think we can do better than go to the words of that same ugly little runt of a man – the one who wrote all those letters: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22).
This is what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit,” the harvest of the only beauty that really matters becoming evident in our character.
Various questions arise: Where do I spend more time: in front of the mirror or focused on God? What matters most to me: how I look to others or how I appear to God? What consumes more of my money: giving to good causes or spending on my appearance? The “fruit of the Spirit” or the vulgar glitz of the celebrity industry?
I don’t mean to be arrogant, but I think I know which matters more to God.
Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister living in northwest London. He is also a freelance journalist who has written for several United Kingdom papers and various Christian publications. His writings can be found on his blog,sedgonline.wordpress.com. A version of this article first appeared in The Baptist Times, the online newspaper of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and is used with permission.